A powerful storm that hit California forced thousands to evacuate – including an entire community – and caused dozens of water rescues as floodwaters flooded roads, swept away vehicles and caused widespread damage .
Streets turned into rivers, trees collapsed, homes lost power, rivers swelled and major roads were closed as the storm unleashed powerful winds and heavy downpours. Portions of the Pacific Coast Highway, a key California beachfront highway, have been closed in Southern California due to flooding, officials said.
A driver died after entering a flooded road in Avila Beach, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
Elsewhere in the county, a 5-year-old child was swept away by floodwaters near the Salinas River in San Miguel on Monday morning. The hours-long search for the child was suspended in the afternoon “because the weather had become too harsh and it was no longer safe for first responders to conduct the search,” CNN told CNN. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Tony Cipolla.
More than 34 million Californians were under flood watch Monday and Tuesday — about 90% of the state’s population and 10% of the US population.
Parts of California’s central coast received 1 to 1.25 inches of rain per hour on Monday, the Weather Prediction Center said.
As of Monday evening, 2 to 7 inches of rain fell at lower elevations and up to 10 inches in the mountains over a 24-hour period, according to preliminary rainfall reports. Montecito received a whopping 9.89 inches over 24 hours, while Fillmore got 6.24 inches and Santa Barbara got 6.13 inches.
The threat has not yet passed. The storm is heading south, shifting the risk of landslides and flooding to the Los Angeles and Ventura County areas on Tuesday.
In central California, heavy downpours triggered major flooding, mudslides and debris flows, prompting residents to flee.
The entire community of Montecito in Santa Barbara County was ordered to evacuate Monday, along with residents of parts of Carpinteria, Summerland and the city of Santa Barbara.
“LEAVE NOW! This is a rapidly evolving situation,” Santa Barbara County officials said. Officials warned residents to “be prepared to support yourself and your household for several days if you choose not to evacuate”.
Montecito – locked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean – received evacuation orders on the fifth anniversary of a 2018 landslide that killed 23 people as mud and rocks the size of homes rolled down the hills of Santa Barbara, smashing more than 100 homes and rupturing a gas line, according to the state Office of Emergency Services.
Video from CNN affiliate KEYT showed cars driving through flooded streets as water raged in a nearby creek in Montecito and mud poured down a hill.
Santa Barbara city officials reported hazardous road conditions with many roads impacted by rocks, debris and flooding.
Further north in Santa Clara County, about 32,000 people were under evacuation orders Monday afternoon and more may be asked to leave Tuesday.
In neighboring Santa Cruz County, Felton resident Rachel Oliveira said she chose to stay home as water from the nearby San Lorenzo River rose, flooding her home.
“It came very quickly,” Oliveira said. “Like within minutes it was across the street into our yard and it went really fast.”
The storm is the latest in a relentless parade of atmospheric rivers that have plagued the West Coast in recent weeks, leaving California soils too saturated to absorb more rain and setting the stage for intense flooding and mudslides.
Warning that with “the worst still ahead of us,” California Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday asked the White House for an emergency declaration to support response and recovery efforts. President Joe Biden approved statement on Monday.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown asked county residents to shelter in place Monday night as travel became a nightmare with landslides, flooded roads and closed highways.
Santa Barbara County crews responded to more than 200 incident calls due to heavy rain, according to Capt. Scott Safechuck, spokesman for a Santa Barbara County Incident Management Team.
About 10 to 15 homes were damaged due to flooding in the county on Monday, according to Santa Barbara County Fire, which released images showing a flooded neighborhood and a chasm which has developed.
To the north, Santa Cruz County suffered extensive damage, Cal Fire footage shows. The San Lorenzo River swelled 14 feet in just over four hours on Monday morning as heavy rains battered the area, putting the river into a major flood phase.
Fast-moving waters in Santa Cruz destroyed a bridge and flooded state parks, video showed.
The National Weather Service reported a “possible levee breach” along the Pajaro River on Monday morning and warned of “life-threatening flash floods.”
Meanwhile, further south in San Luis Obispo County, authorities urged residents south of the Arroyo Grande Creek levee to evacuate immediately Monday evening to higher ground.
The deluge prompted numerous water rescues across the state on Monday as rising waters trapped drivers.
In southern California, at least 18 people were rescued by Ventura County firefighters, including several people stranded on an island in the Ventura River, fire officials said.
As the rains intensified Monday night, Ventura County Moorpark officers worked to rescue drivers stranded on State Route 126, according to the California Highway Patrol. State Route 126 has been closed from the Fillmore City limits to Fairview Canyon.
In Monterey County, central California, the sheriff’s office and the Coast Guard rescued two people and a dog trapped by floodwaters, the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.
Before the storm landed, California Emergency Services Director Nancy Ward warned that “flooding kills more people than any other natural disaster.”
“We’ve already had more fatalities in this flood storm since Dec. 31 than we’ve had in the past two fire seasons from the largest fire area burned in California,” Ward said. at a press conference on Sunday.
Rains fell across Southern California on Monday evening, threatening flash flooding and landslides from Los Angeles to San Diego – especially in fire-scarred areas.
Embed slug: California rural wildfire hazard climate
More than seven million people were under a flash flood warning for downtown Los Angeles Monday night. Between one and two inches of rain had fallen and another one to two inches was possible in the warned area.
While storm-stricken areas of central and northern California will see some respite from heavy rains early Tuesday, “it will be short-lived as the next in the seemingly endless parade of mighty Pacific wet systems pushes more heavy rainfall throughout California on Tuesday,” the National Weather Service warned.
Tuesday’s additional heavy rains are expected to worsen ongoing flooding, according to the weather service.
“Almost all of California has experienced well above average precipitation totals over the past few weeks, with totals 400 to 600 percent above average values,” the weather service said. “This resulted in nearly saturated soils and increasingly high river levels.”
The rain is expected to ease Tuesday evening across much of the state, before another batch of heavy rainfall moves into northern California and the Pacific Northwest coast on Wednesday.